Resources

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Issues

Documents

FAQ

Human Rights apply to everyone, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender & intersex people.

Q: What does the acronym ‘LGBTI’ stand for?
A: L (Lesbian), G (Gay), B (Bisexual), T (Transgender) and I (Intersex).

Q: What is meant by the term ‘lesbian’?
A: ‘Lesbian’ refers to a woman whose primary sexual and romantic attraction is towards other women.   

Q: What is meant by the term ‘gay’?  
 A: ‘Gay’ refers to a man whose primary sexual and romantic attraction is towards other men. 

Q: What is meant by the term  ‘bisexual’?
A: ‘Bisexual’ refers to a person who is sexually and romantically attracted to both women and men,
although such attraction need not be concurrent or of equal intensity.

Q: What is meant by the term  ‘transgender’?
A: An adjective used to describe the gender identity of people whose birth gender (the gender they were declared to have upon birth) does not conform to their lived and/or perceived gender (the gender that they are most comfortable with expressing or would express, if given a choice).

Q: What is meant by the term ‘intersex’?
A: Intersex people are born with external genitalia, internal reproductive organs and/or an endocrine system that are different from most people. They are born with ambiguous sexual organs. It is incorrect to call them hermaphrodites.

Q: Is it true that whenever a gay/lesbian person approaches you it is always to propose sex with you?
A: No. This is an incorrect assumption. Just like all human beings gay or lesbian people are attracted to some people and not others. Just like heterosexuals are not attracted to every member of the opposite sex, gay and lesbian people are not attracted to every member of the same sex. Not everything is about sexual attraction. They could just be trying to be friendly as any other person would.

Q: Are gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender people mentally sick and do they have to be cured?
A: No. Just like heterosexuality, homosexuality or being transgendered is not an illness or a disorder. Being part of one of these groups is as much a human variation as being left or right-handed – a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity are just part of who they are. There are no medical, psychological or spiritual interventions that can change ones sexual orientation. It is not a disease to be cured.

Q: Is it true that being lesbian or gay is “un-African” and a Western import?
A: No. There have been many studies and research to support that homosexuality has been around the world and in Africa for centuries. It was not necessarily called by the same names, and it may not have been as openly expressed as it is today. Same-sex experiences have been part of African societies.

Q: Is it true that LGBTI persons are not religious?
A: This is not true. Many gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are religious. Some religions may consider homosexuality a sin, but many churches, including many Christian churches and some Muslim communities welcome and accept all people just the way God created them.

Q: Is it true that lesbian women want to be men and are “butch” in their gender expression?
A: No. Lesbians do not want to be men. They are women who are attracted to other women. Lesbians, who appear to be masculine, do so because this is how they feel comfortable. There is a diversity of gender expression among all women (and men), no matter their sexual orientation.

Q: If gay/lesbian people adopt children, will they make that child gay?
A: No. Just like a heterosexual couple, they will love and nurture that child. Just like any parents, they will explain to that child when he/she is old enough the nature of their relationship in relation to the broader society.  Remember that most gay and lesbian children grew up in heterosexual households.  Opposite-sex parents are no more likely to produce gay children than same-sex parents.  

Q: Are homosexual people perverts, watch pornography and sexually abuse children?
A: Paedophilia is a punishable criminal act in South Africa regardless who perpetuates it. There is no evidence to support that gay or lesbian people abuse children any more than heterosexual people. Just like any heterosexual people, LGBTI people enjoy adult sexual fantasies. They are normal members of society.

Q: Are there gay and lesbian people that are scared to be open about their sexual orientation because they are afraid of being stereotyped and marginalised?
A: Unfortunately, yes. They may have different reasons but many are scared of being discriminated against at home, work and in the broader society as a whole.

Q: Is same-sex desire contagious?
A: No. Desire, whether opposite-sex or same-sex is not a disease or an illness. LGBTI people are just like everyone else and should be treated with the same dignity and respect that every member of society expects to be treated with.

Q: Should I ask a person if I think that they are gay or lesbian?
A: This is seldom appropriate. Do not make assumptions about other people’s sexual orientation. You may offend them. Everyone has a right to privacy.  Many people do declare their sexual orientation without being asked. We have to respect each other.

Q: Can gay, lesbian and transgender people change their sexual orientation or gender identity?
A: No. Efforts to do so are not only unnecessary but most importantly, they are damaging. Research shows that so-called reparative or conversion therapies do not have an effect on altering a person’s sexual orientation and do a lot of harm. LGBTI people should be accepted the way they are. They are not infringing on anybody’s rights by being themselves.

Q: Do lesbians hate men?
A: No. Just because lesbians are sexually and emotionally attracted to women, it does not mean that they hate men or even dislike them. Many lesbians enjoy respectful and loving friendships with men

Q: Are bisexual people promiscuous and do they have sex with anyone and everyone at all times?
A: No. Just because they have the potential to be attracted to both men and women it does not mean that they are promiscuous and sleep around. Many bisexual couples are in committed lasting relationships.

Q: Do lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people always indulge in unsafe sex?
A: No. This is an incorrect assumption. Just like most responsible heterosexuals, most LGBTI people practise safe sex. There are many organisations that provide counselling and assistance to LGBTI people on practising safe sex and give guidance to feel confident in who they are.

Q: Can one assume in a lesbian relationship that one of them is “the man” in that relationship?
A: No. Although some lesbian couples are butch/feminine together, this does not mean that they are not women or wish to be men. This type of pairing is not the only evident coupling of lesbians. Women don’t claim any “label” of being “the man” just because they are both women.

Q: If I, as a woman, kiss or have sex with a woman or if, as a man, I have sex with another man, does that make me homosexual?
A: No. This does not automatically make you homosexual. There are many heterosexual people who enjoy having sex with people of their own sex. It is the intention of the person over and above the sex. It is also an emotional, mental and romantic attraction. They would also want to do the things that couples typically do over and above having sex – for example, settling down, raising children together or being a couple in a relationship – that is what makes them homosexual.

Q: As a service-provider, how should I treat gay and lesbian people during the course of my duties?
A: They should be treated with dignity and respect just like any other person. Do not ridicule or be disrespectful to them. Their rights are protected in the Constitution of South Africa just as it is for the rest of society. It is important that state officials and service providers understand the unique experiences of LGBTI people, and are knowledgeable and able to provide appropriate and respectful service to these communities.

Q. Why are some people lesbian, gay or bisexual?
It is not clear what causes a person to be emotionally, romantically and sexually attracted to any other person. A number of factors are likely to play a role including genetics, hormones and a person’s own inner sense of self.
Homosexuality is not an illness or disease; it can neither be taught ’nor cured.
Lesbian, gay and bisexual persons do not influence or change another person’s sexual orientation. It is also not true that lesbian, gay and bisexual persons have necessarily been abused or mistreated as a child or is going through a ‘phase’ in life.

Q. Why are some people transgender?
A person’s gender identity is caused by a number of factors, including genetics and hormones and a person’s inner sense of self. A number of factors are likely to play a role including genetics,, hormones and a person’s own inner sense of self, some of which may occur before birth. Being transgender is not an illness. For example, a person who was born with male sex organs may feel and need to live as female. Some transgender people choose to change part or all of their sex anatomy by taking hormone treatment and/or undergoing surgery, but this is not always the case.

Q. How do you tell if someone is LGBTI?
It is not always possible to tell whether someone is LGBTI just by looking at them. Like the rest of society, LGBTI persons, as individuals, express themselves and live in many different ways. People should not be defined by the clothes they wear or how they behave, but instead by the way they feel and self-identify.

Q. Do gay men want to be women; do lesbian women want to be men?
No. A gay or lesbian person is someone who is emotionally, romantically and sexually attracted to people of the same sex, not someone who is transgender or wants to be the opposite gender. Gay and lesbian persons may dress or behave in feminine or masculine ways, respectively, but that does not necessarily mean that they want to be women or men, respectively.

Q. Can LGBTI persons be “cured”?
LGBTI persons are not ill, so there is nothing that needs to be cured. Whether a person is lesbian, gay or bisexual, it is not possible to change their sexual orientation – it is a natural and normal part of who that person is. Likewise, a transgender or intersex person is not suffering from an illness. Sadly, some people think lesbian, gay and bisexual persons need to be taught a lesson in how to be “real men” and “real women” by forcefully having sex with them. Having sex with a person without their consent is rape and unlawful. Sexually or physically assaulting a person to “punish” or “cure” them is a criminal act and causes serious emotional, physical and psychological harm and trauma.

Q. What is a hate crime?
A hate crime is any crime committed against a person because of a particular characteristic or group to which they belong– for example, an attack on a person because of their race, country of birth, religion, sexual orientation, or the way they express their gender identity. Hate crimes can include physical and sexual violence, intimidation or blackmail. Contact one of the organisations listed in this brochure for help if you have experienced or witnessed a hate crime based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Q. Are gay men more likely to sexually abuse children?
No. Child sexual abuse is a crime and is not determined by a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Q. Are LGBTI persons un-African?
LGBTI person exist in all cultures including African cultures. In fact, there is a rich history of sexual and gender diversity in a number of African traditions. In many societies, homosexual and transgender persons have been celebrated and respected.

Q. Is homosexuality unnatural or anti - religion?
No. A person’s sexual orientation is a natural and normal part of that person.
All religions and spiritual teachings preach love, tolerance and respect for all people. Many religious and spiritual leaders preach that all people are free and equal and must be treated with dignity. In South Africa, the Constitution also protects the rights of everyone to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion. but this does not mean that they can discriminate unfairly against or mistreat others because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Q. Is homosexuality anti-family?
No. Like everyone else, LGBTI persons are part of families and form families. There are many different types of families in South Africa. Some children are adopted, and others are raised by only their mother or only their father, or by their grandparents or other caregivers.
LGBTI persons also raise children and there is no evidence that being raised by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex parents or caregivers is harmful to children. Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons are married or live in committed, healthy relationships.

Q. Are LGBTI persons a high risk group for contracting HIV?
A person’s risk for contracting HIV is determined by his or her behaviours, not sexual orientation. It is important for all people – whether homosexual or heterosexual – to always practise safe sex.

Q. What should I do if my child, friend or colleague is being victimised because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity?
Provide love, support and assistance. A person can also lodge a complaint of unfair discrimination at the equality court based at the nearest Magistrates Court; seek assistance from Chapter 9 Institutions such as the South African Human Rights Commission and Commission for Gender Equality; contact Lifeline South Africa’s toll free Stop Gender Violence Helpline (0800 150 150) for counselling, emotional support and referral services; and the organisations listed in the LGBTI pamphlet.

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development endorses the rights of LGBTI people as human rights, which should be enforced and respected at all times.

Enquiries

Ms Siphiwe Ntombela
Senior Legal Administrative Officer : LGBTI
Branch: Constitutional Development
Department of Justice & Constitutional Development
Tel: +27(12) 357 8125
E-mail: SNtombela@justice.gov.za